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There seems to be a never ending list of family friendly activities in our nation’s National Parks. Many parks offer incredible opportunities for family adventure, from hiking and kayaking, to rock climbing and caving. With so many national park adventures, how does one choose where to begin?
Here are 15 national park adventures you can add to your bucket list. This list celebrates the diversity of national parks and is sure to get you excited about getting outside!
Bucket List National Park Adventures
1. Take a Boat Tour of Everglades National Park
There is no way to better experience the alligator-filled river of grass than from the water while at Everglades National Park. The National Park Service offers narrated boat tours of the famed 10,000 Islands area. Explore a wilderness teeming with birds and reptiles while enjoying a tranquil ride across these endangered wetlands.
Prefer to stick to land? Try biking Shark Valley. The Shark Valley Trail is a 14.5-mile paved loop which is a popular spot for spotting gators right next to (and sometimes on) the trail! You can rent bikes at the visitor center or bring your own.
2. Snorkel in the Warm Waters of Biscayne National Park
Whether your family is discovering a mangrove ecosystem or admiring the fish on a tropical reef, everyone is certain to have a great time in the water at Biscayne National Park. Downtown Miami may be within sight but Biscayne may as well be a world away.
While you are there, check out the top 10 things to do with kids in Miami.
3. Paddle down river at Congaree National Park
Take the family on a guided canoe trip down Congaree National Park’s Cedar Creek; the free, ranger-guided canoe trips are offered to families with children over the age of 5 through the nation’s largest remaining old-growth floodplain forest. Imagine peacefully paddling through the some of the tallest trees in the Eastern US with nothing but the sounds of birds chirping and leaves rustling accompanying you as your canoe glides silently across the water. White-tailed deer, otter, and raccoon sightings are possible.
Explore the Top 10 Things to do with Kids in South Carolina.
4. Bike down the volcano at Haleakala National Park
After watching the sun rise, your family can then bike down the volcano at Haleakala National Park. My absolute favorite memory of my trip to Maui was getting up in the middle of the night, taking a van to the top of Haleakala, watching the sunrise, then hopping on a rented bike and coasting down the volcano. We followed the twisting road as we dropped several thousand feet in elevation until we were back at sea level. The views were amazing and the bike ride was a piece of cake since it was all downhill!
Not heading to Hawaii? Explore all of the North American volcanoes you can visit with your family.
5. Ride a mule (or white water raft!) in Grand Canyon National Park
Riding a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon is a classic National Park experience. The mule tour operators have a near perfect 100 year safety record so anyone at least 4’7″ and under 200lbs should definitely add this adventure to their bucket list. For those looking for an adventure that involves plenty of water and adrenaline, rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon should be at the top of your family vacation list. Trips vary from 1 to 25 days and involve either a hike up or a hike down the canyon.
Check out fun recommendations on visiting the Grand Canyon area with kids.
6. Climb up granite walls in Yosemite National Park
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commoms
What better place to have your kids learn the finer points of rock climbing than in Yosemite National Park? The Yosemite Mountaineering School has been helping families scale their first slabs of granite for over 40 years. Is there really a better place for family bonding than 60 feet above the ground?
Check out all our tips on visiting Yosemite with kids
7. Ride horseback to an old west cookout in Yellowstone National Park
Although there are many dining options inside Yellowstone National Park, nothing sounds like more fun than taking a horseback ride out to an Old West Cookout. One or two-hour horseback rides through sagebrush, meadows, and woods take you to the spot where the cookout is held. Steak is served along with all-you-can-eat chuckwagon fare. If your children are too young to ride to the cookout by horseback (8 is the minimum age), a stagecoach ride across the sagebrush to the cookout will certainly get everyone in the Old West spirit.
8. Take a carriage tour of Acadia National Park
Experience the famous roads of Acadia National Park just as John D. Rockefeller Jr. intended, in a carriage. Cross cobblestone bridges, weave in and out of the woods, and enjoy incredible views from the comfort of a horse-drawn carriage. Can’t you just hear the clip clop of the horses’ hooves just thinking about it?
9. View Cuyahoga Valley National Park from a vintage train
From the comfort of a vintage train car, experience the stunning natural beauty of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. If you are lucky you might spot white tailed deer grazing or one of 200 bird species that call the park home throughout the year. Be sure to pick up headphones for the audio tour so you can learn the history of this amazing park as it passes by your window.
10. Explore Glacier Bay National Park by boat
Photo Courtesy of NPS
The best way for families to see the glaciers that are Glacier Bay National Park‘s namesake, is from the water. Vessels will take passengers through iceberg filled water so they can get up close to those massive rivers of ice. The entire Alaska region is teeming with wildlife including bears, moose, sea lions, orcas, mountain goats, puffins, and wolves so don’t forget your camera!
11. Go dogsledding in Denali National Park
NPS Photo/ Jared Withers
Learn how to mush with North America’s tallest peak as your backdrop. Family trips into Denali National Park on dogsled will create the ultimate winter memories. Wildlife encounters are very likely and some of the animals you might see include moose, caribou, lynx, dall sheep, and wolves. Children as young 12 can learn to drive their very own team.
12. Learn the basics of caving inside Mammoth Cave National Park
Learn how to descend down cave walls, climb on your hands and knees under low clearance areas, and squeeze through tight passage ways to view parts of Mammoth Cave National Park that most visitors never see. Children ages 8-12 can”trog”- an off trail experience that involves a short hike through the woods and crawling around in rarely visited portions of Mammoth Cave.
13. Kayak into sea caves at Channel Islands National Park
Enjoy the rugged beauty of Channel Islands National Park from a sea kayak. Spend time as a family paddling through the pristine marine environment surrounding the islands. Beautiful beaches and incredible sea caves are just waiting to be explored. Children as young as 10 can ride tandem in the kayak with their parents.
14. Take a horseback ride at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
There are plenty of National Parks that offer horseback riding, but seeing badlands of North Dakota the way Theodore Roosevelt did is an experience unto itself. Ride the trails and explore the prairies at Theodore Roosevelt National Park that inspired our former president to become one of word’s leading conservationists. Wild horse, bison, deer, elk, coyote, eagle, and prairie dog sightings are possible.
15. Float down the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park
Photo Courtesy NPS
Explore one of the last remaining wild corners of the Continental US as you raft or canoe down the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. Enjoy towering canyon walls and riparian desert flora and fauna as you drift along the US/Mexican border. Children as young as 4 can float the Colorado Canyon and kids aged 7 and older can enjoy a trip through the dramatic Santa Elena Canyon.
Excited to visit national parks with your kids? We are too! Visit our National Parks with Kids page for extensive coverage, tips & tricks for all our nation’s National Parks.